Sunday, February 24, 2013
Yesterday while looking for some books in my office, I found a newspaper that I had saved for a friend in our District Presidency, a certain Brother B. who had been interviewed in a local Shanghai newspaper for a business story. The interview was accompanied by a nice color photo. Turns out he wasn't aware that the article had published when I mentioned it to him, so I assume that he didn't already have a copy and that others hand't given it to him. I ran into the article by chance on one of those two or three days in a month when I look at that newspaper, so it was a lucky find.
When I ran into my saved newspaper yesterday, I had an impression: "Put it in your bag and take it with you Sunday." But that was obviously ridiculous because Sunday I was going to Suzhou to speak in the Suzhou Branch in my capacity as a District Councilor (like a High Councilor for a District, not yet a Stake), and President B. was not going there. So I dismissed the impression. And I was right: President B. did not go to Suzhou. I would not see him.
This morning, as I was rushing to get ready to catch an early train, I stepped back into the office, saw the newspaper again, and had the same impression. "Just stick it in your black leather bag and take it with you to Suzhou." Naw, that makes no sense. I could be confident that President B. was not going to Suzhou. In fact, he was going the opposite direction to Hangzhou. I would not see him.
I took a taxi to the Hongqiao train station on the west end of Shanghai (one of Shanghai's 4 train stations) heading to Suzhou. No, President B. was not there or anywhere near, as far as I know. But within 5 seconds after passing through security at the airport, I was approached by another District Councilor who had arrived at the same time. I don't think that's ever happened to me before. In this city of 25 million people and vast crowds at gargantuan train stations and airports, it's pretty easy to travel without running into anyone you know, much less a fellow District Councilor. He told me where he was going: to the Branch Conference in Hangzhou. Yes, that's right, the place where Brother B. would be also. I laughed and told him the story. "You know, this is a good lesson for me. Let me tell you what happened yesterday...."
Our reasons for ignoring the promptings of the Spirit, the standards and commandments of the Church, or even our testimony of the Gospel are often very logical. We may even be entirely correct in our analysis, except for a little missing piece of information that later makes sense of the ridiculous. No, President B. was not coming to Suzhou. But I would see someone who was going to meet President B. and could have done something kind and perhaps even useful for reasons I still don't know, if only I had exercised a little faith and acted.
Yes, I know there are many whims people have that look random and likely are not impressions of the Spirit. It's often not easy separating our voice or random voices from the voice of the Spirit. But we need to try and we need to listen and act in faith, learning from experience as we do so. One thing I think I have learned, as I ponder my experiences in this area, is that when there is a prompting about how we can help someone else, then this is something to pay attention to. If it comes again, and especially if it is confirmed when we pray about it, then perhaps we should pay attention and act. Seeking to follow the guidance of the Spirit in serving others is a great way to encounter many small miracles of timing and divine intervention that can help us grow closer to God and strengthen our own testimonies of His reality and love. If we dismiss such promptings as annoying whims, we'll soon find the Spirit annoys us less and less until it is silent and all we experience is perfectly logical, scientific, and devoid of some of the charm and joy that could be ours, with many missed opportunities to make the world better.
And yes, I recognize this missed opportunity was relatively trivial compared to the big issues like war, famine, and the Green Bay Packers. But God's work is often done with small means, including small acts of kindness where small souls like mine can occasionally make a difference, and if we are to magnify our ability to serve and make a difference, we need to be trained to listen to and respond to that still, small voice. I hope we can learn from experiences like this and do a better job of serving and helping when God tries to move us in His direction.